Japanese Language Blog

Japanese Culture: Kurokawa Noh (黒川能) Posted by on Feb 1, 2009 in Culture

Hello everybody!  Let me start off by asking, do you like festivals?  I sure hope so, because today is the Kurokawa Noh Festival (黒川能).  This festival is held every year in the town of Kushibiki (櫛引) in the prefecture of Yamagata (山形).  If you’re also a theater junkie, this is also the festival for you.

Noh () is a type of Japanese theater.  To be exact, it’s more like a broadway musical; minus the showtunes.  Noh () performances are based on classical Japanese stories.  Noh () actors are usually men.  Even the roles that require a female character are played by men.  A typical noh () play will consist of a shite (仕手).  A shite (仕手) is the main character of a noh () play.  The shite (仕手) is always accompanied by the hayashi (囃子) or the instrumentalists.  The hayashis (囃子) play traditional Japanese instruments like the fue (能管), which is a type of bamboo flute.

Pulling off a noh () play is incredibly hard.  The shite (仕手) and the hayashi (囃子) do not rehearse their parts together.  The only time they play together is when the actual play starts.  A noh () play is like an improvisational act.  The instrumentalists and the actors act in response to the reaction of the audience and to each other.  Of couse, the stories that the actors have to recite are roughly the same and have been for many centuries.  Despite that, noh () plays are still difficult performances.  The timing and music have to match perfectly without any awkwardness.  You really have to know your art to make it look easy.

Even if you can’t understand Japanese very well, noh () plays are a feast to the eyes.  The actors will wear brightly colored costumes made of golden silk threads.  In contrast, the hayashis (囃子) will wear a black kimono (着物).  The instrumentalists are considered the supporters, not the primary actors of a play, so naturally their costumes will be subdued.

To get an idea about what noh () plays are like, here’s a Youtube video :

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  1. michael:

    I have interest in all Japanese culture, history, legends and life in general,